by Lynn Dee Galey
It started with a tragedy. Skidding tires, the horrible thump, the terror of reality giving a man the power to leap over the back of his pickup truck in a single motion. But heroics couldn’t save this day, nor save the life of the beautiful orange belton puppy that had given life to so many dreams and plans and hopes.
Afterward, John just wasn’t the same. His wife and children had never seen him this defeated, this sad. The loss of the 5-month-old puppy meant the loss of dreams held at bay since childhood, a passion and longing that had been shelved by a 20-year good marriage and three active sons. The boys had heard the stories of the coonhound that their Dad had proudly owned, shown, and hunted back when he was their age. They now came to realize that the silky setter pup had been the rebirth of this passion, only now in pursuit of partridge instead of raccoons through his beloved Vermont woods.
The boys joined together in deep conversation and the teachings and love that they had been given all of their lives came glistening to the surface. They went to their Mother and with one voice said that they wanted her to take the money normally spent on gifts for them and instead buy a pup for their father for Christmas. They wanted to give up their own Christmas, their own excitement of opening brightly colored boxes under the tree, to give their father another chance at his dream.
Mother agreed, then quietly fretted on how she would come up with the large sum that a well-bred gun dog costs. Their lost pup had been a gift from their hunter/breeder friend because friendship carries no price tags, but John’s wife knew she must somehow manage to do this.
Beyond the money, it seemed simple enough – there were still three weeks left until Christmas. Surely there were puppies out there just waiting for a home. But John had very particular tastes. He had spent time training and hunting with the breeder of the orange puppy, and he had developed his own opinions and tastes around a very particular type of dog. In his case, it had to be a Ryman-type English Setter.
Never mind that most people waited months or more for a puppy of that breeding; his wife was determined to find a dog for her husband and her family for Christmas. Hours spent contacting breeders around the country found many setters available, but no Rymans. Finally the woman who’d gifted the original puppy suggested it was a long shot, but might be worth a call to a breeder friend of hers located a few hours away. Those people, in fact, owned ancestors of the original pup.
Perhaps that’s when the magic of the Christmas spirit kicked in: indeed, a puppy had become available at the last minute. It wasn’t an orange female. In fact it was a blue male, but it was a well-bred pup and would be nine weeks old on Christmas day.
The deposit check was sent, with a blank left in the family check record as to whom the check was paid. That blank led to several inquisitions over the next two weeks by John as to how his wife could possibly write a check at this time of year and forget to whom she written it. But she played along, accepting his ire, praying and hoping that when the time came that his heart would be able to open up again and accept the promise that came with sorrowful hazel eyes. She prayed that the weather would hold and that she and their friend would be able to make the long drive to the kennel in the days before Christmas.
Their luck, and the weather, held. The two women were rewarded when the chosen youngster’s was the only tail that never stopped wagging. As a bonus, unlike his littermates, he didn’t bark and wail when not picked up, preferring to sit back and study the action.
He was placed in a crate in the back of the Jeep for the ride home, one of the friend’s setters in a neighboring crate for company. But after displaying all of his bodily functions in his crate, a decision was made: the pup was cleaned up and rode the rest of the way on his new owner’s lap where he contentedly snuggled in and fell asleep.
They drove straight to the little restaurant in town where the middle son was working. The instant that he saw the puppy his arms stretched out to hold him, and the little setter was introduced to everyone in that tiny family restaurant.From the start, the middle son had been adamant that the surprise be kept until Christmas. Here was the plan: The pup would stay at their friend’s house until the holiday. On their way back from church on Christmas Eve, where the boys were to light candles during service, there would be “a furnace emergency” at the puppy stash. John’s professional skills might be needed to “repair” that balky furnace.
But cradling the setter, Middle Son had a change of heart regarding waiting the three days before Christmas Eve. Couldn’t the pup go home that night? Dinner business was slow and the restaurant owner could do without a bus boy.
The youngest boy met them at the back door and his eyes popped. Reaching out, he gathered in the puppy and shouted for his father and brother. There was a hush as the third brother and John stepped into the room.
“Merry Christmas, Dad”.John gently took the puppy. Tears and magic filled the room as all eyes were on John and his dog. Suddenly, his sons and wife all started talking excitedly at the same time, telling about the gift, the planning, the search, the impatience, and the “missing” check.
John’s eyes met those of their friend and he choked out the words, “Thank you. I’ve been so heartbroken”. All the time John held the puppy to his chest and the pup quietly looked up at him.
The friend smiled, said “Merry Christmas!” and slipped out the door. As the sounds and lights of the kitchen spilled out onto the porch, she knew the spirits of two little puppies, one gone and one just a few feet away, had together joined to deliver the very essence of Christmas to all who had just shared this moment.